Last year, I wrote a blog post called "Anatomy of a school sports day" which was a 22 steps description to how most schools in India treat parents during an even that is more fun for the kids than it is for the family.
It included the obligatory boring as hell Chief Guest speech, the school administration making their reports and listing their achievement for some extra PR. The relay of the flame, the mascot, the balloon launch, the uncomfy plastic chairs, lack of caffeine, semi-coma, "Frooti bombs" and all across chaos.
Needless to say that in all those years of schools I never really liked sports day, it's the equivalent of a lengthy board meeting during which you will only find 5 minutes of interesting content (in this case your child's performance).
Fortunately, the school we are in this year does things much differently, and I kid you not, it makes all the difference for the parents. The kids still get the same sportive fun in the end, but the parents are in a much better mood.
So much so, that I think a lot of schools should take a leaf out of that book:
1)Sticking to a schedule! Our school told us to drop the kid at 8am sharp and immediately proceed to the parent sitting area so that the event could start on time at 8.30.
To my surprise, they stuck to it! The children and officials all made their entrance at 8.20am, and the guest of honour started her speech at 8.30 after a very brief introduction by the principal.
2) Divide the masses to avoid chaos. Not all kids across all standards need to be present at the same time! We all know that parents only come to see the 5 minutes of action their progeny is involved in and don't care a hoot about the rest. This means it is unfair to make parents from standards 1 to 10 all sit at the same time for 5 hours.
Our school understood it perfectly and only standards 1 to 5 were summoned in the morning event which finished by 11am. Parents with older kids were in the afternoon event that started at 5pm, that way nobody fries in the sun or fight for limited seating space. Instead parents only get stuck for 2.5 hours, much more reasonable
3) Caffeine, oh wonderful caffeine! A school that understands that parents essentially live and run on caffeine is a good school. Parents are essentially bigger kids, they can't be kept sitting still on a chair for hours without being distracted.
In our previous school they only gave snacks and drinks to the kids, letting parents go without even a drop of water during their 5 hours long sentence of plastic chairs.
This school of ours played it much smarter: they moved the coffee/tea machine they have in the administration office outside and created a FREE coffee and tea corner for the parents.
4) Make it social. Let's face it, parents only come to cheer their own kids, it amounts to 5-10 minutes of excitement in the whole event. After that, they don't give a damn about anything but are stuck waiting until the end of the sports day to pick up their kids.
If you want hordes of parents that will chase toddlers, attempt to kidnap their kids to go back home and chaos, make sure it stays as boring as can be.
If you are smart, you'll know that parents will be happier and less disruptive if you provide them a place to stretch their legs and an occasion to chit chat.
This was the secondary use of the coffee/tea stalls our school event! Parents who already watched their kids leave their chair, make room for other parents to have a prime photography spot and spend the rest of the sports event drinking tea and coffee and meet other parents.
5) Feed the parents. If you want to score extra brownie points with the lot that pays the school fees and agreed to endure the sporting event for the sake of their kids, why just stop at the free tea and coffee?
Kids usually get packaged snack boxes at these events, why not double the order placed at the local chaat catering place and get some for the parents? Or at the very least offer it for a fee if you are too cheap to give away food to the very people that financially contribute to the school's running.
This year I was happy to get treated to a free mini chaat box and chocolate milk to patient until the National Anthem and subsequent pick up.
6) Save the PR speech for another time. As parents, we absolutely don't care about it. We don't care who the top scorers in the school are, what kind of obscure idiotic achievement the school got in a faraway event in the middle of nowhere, or what special teacher training event has or will take place. We don't care to be reminded about the "holistic approach" to teaching either. In case you haven't noticed, we are seated on those plastic chairs because we ALREADY enrolled our kids in the school, so save all that "ass shmoozing" crap for the annual newsletter (the one we throw in the dustbin as soon as it reaches us) or the bulletin, which we leaf through to see if there is a picture of our kid in it before discarding it.
The sports day is not the time for that kind of stupid speeches. It takes at least an hour of our time for nothing. It's not like we are going to give you extra money for that performance anyway!
Keep the sports day as short and sweet as possible people!
7) Make dispersal a breeze. Our school still failed a bit at that, but because the parents were not rabid with boredom the stampede was still minimal.
I think the best option would be to call each class parents one by one on the field to go pick up their kids. Most schools still choose to take the kids back inside and force the parents to squeeze themselves in a narrow staircase or wait at a narrow gate instead. But compared to all the previous years of agony I'd say the pick up time still went smoothly enough.
All in all, our sports day was an easy one, that ended with minimal frustration for everybody involved. All it took was a wee bit of planning ahead. I know, shocking! Right?